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We’ve worked with dozens of teams and have been involved in paying hundreds (if not thousands) of people—including freelancers, salaried employees, and hourly employees—over the years. After testing ten of the top options on the market and considering our own experiences, Gusto is our top pick because it supports all types of employees and contractors, is dead simple to use, and you get the most bang for your buck.
The Best Online Payroll Service for Most
Gusto is our top pick (it’s also what we use, here at Crazy Egg). From an employee and employer standpoint, online payroll doesn’t get much easier than it is with Gusto. Not only does it have the best UI, but every plan also includes full-service payroll, employee self-service accounts, PTO policies, and world-class customer support.
Paid plans start at just $39 per month + $6 per employee per month, with a contractor-only option that starts at just $6 per contractor per month.
The 6 Best Online Payroll Services Options to Consider
- Gusto – Best online payroll service for most
- QuickBooks – Best for knocking out payroll & accounting in one step
- ADP – Best for avoiding payroll growing pains
- Deluxe Payroll – Best way to attract more talent
- SurePayroll – Best worry-free guarantee for small business taxes
- Payroll4Free.com – Best feature-rich free-forever online payroll service
When It Makes Sense to Invest Into Online Payroll Services
Whether you have one employee or 100+, payroll compliance is extremely important. Not only does it ensure that your employees get paid on time and in full, but it also helps protect against costly mistakes and compliance issues.
However, using a payroll service means outsourcing payroll functions to a third party. In most cases, you can decide which tasks you want to outsource, but you do lose a bit of control by inviting an outside provider into your business.
You don’t have to use an online service, but you are in charge of maintaining compliance with all local, state, and federal tax agencies whether you do it yourself or hire someone else.
It makes sense to invest in an online payroll service if you want:
- To avoid running payroll yourself
- To gain peace of mind knowing it’s done right
- Someone on your side who can help you maintain compliance
- A service that provides your employees with important information and answers to their questions
And while it may seem like outsourcing is solely reserved for larger teams, that’s far from the truth. There are dozens of low-cost options, several of which made it onto our list. So, outsourcing payroll services is a lot more cost-effective than you think.
#1 – Gusto — The Best Online Payroll Service for Most
Gusto is an excellent online payroll solution for businesses of all shapes and sizes, from sole proprietors to large teams with hundreds of employees. It’s our top recommendation—for good reason. It’s what we use to pay our team, offer amazing benefits options, and manage PTO in one place (even without an in-house HR team).
We can personally vouch for its ease of use for non-HR professionals and time-saving payroll features.
With it, you get everything you need to start automating your payroll runs, offer exceptional employee benefits, onboard new employees, and simplify tax time for yourself and your team.
From tax payments to year-end filings, Gusto lets you manage everyone’s tax documents electronically. This saves you time and money, while also eliminating the possibility of something important getting lost in the mail and holding up tax season for your employees.
Or worse. A costly human error because of manual document preparation.
Once you enter your team’s information into the system, Gusto can run payroll automatically, meaning you can stop manually paying your team and manually tracking the associated taxes, too since it handles tax calculations on autopilot.
Every time you hire a new employee, you can easily add them to your new payroll system. The complete onboarding process lets new hires onboard themselves without you having to lift a finger.
All of our team’s gone through the onboarding process. It’s easy and straightforward, plus the cartoon pig is a nice touch that makes the process enjoyable.
Overall, Gusto is a modern solution to processing payroll online and it’s perfect for solopreneurs and microbusinesses looking for a better way to run payroll and manage tax payments.
Gusto offers four plans to choose from, including:
- Contractor – $0 per month + $6 per contractor per month
- Core – $39 per month + $6 per employee per month
- Complete – $39 per month + $12 per employee per month
- Concierge – $149 per month + $12 per employee per month
If you have in-house employees, pricing starts at just $45 per month to start automating your payroll processes, reducing manual entry errors, and seamlessly onboarding new employees. It comes with all the basics covering all 50 states, including tax calculations, 2-day direct deposits, PTO policies, and employee self-service portals.
It’s the perfect addition to your tool stack, especially if you don’t have an in-house HR team.
Running payroll has never been easier than it is with Gusto’s modern and enjoyable UI. Sign up today to see it in action for yourself and decide if it’s right for your team today!
#2 – QuickBooks — The Best for Knocking Out Payroll & Accounting in One Step
Payroll and accounting are related but totally separate processes that typically require manual data entry or integration between the two tools. However, QuickBooks QuickBooks Payroll cuts out the middle processes and creates a direct flow of information from payroll to accounting.
Doing so makes everyone’s lives easier. Not only are there fewer mistakes and less time spent consolidating accounts, but you also get enhanced business organization and real-time syncing across the two modules.
QuickBooks Payroll is a no-brainer if you already use QuickBooks for accounting or plan to start using it soon.
Getting started is easy, and you get a wide range of step-by-step tutorials to streamline the setup process. There’s also a guided setup process that walks you through it all. It’s so easy it takes just a few minutes to get everything up and running.
Even if you’re not an accountant or payroll specialist, you get all the help, documentation, and support you need.
Quickbooks helps automate and digitize your tax payments, too. From monthly tax payments and automatic calculations for paycheck tax withholdings to year-end filings and preparation, it’s all taken care of. All of your federal and state taxes are also calculated, filed, and paid for you so you don’t have to worry about tax compliance (or tax season) again.
It works in all 50 states, so it’s an excellent choice regardless of where your team works—even if they all work in different states, QuickBooks handles the complexities for you.
You even get tax penalty protection to cover you if something goes awry.
Plus, you can do all of this and more without printing out a single sheet of paper (hello environment).
You also get industry-leading direct deposit speeds with funds showing up in your team’s accounts no later than the next business day. Everyone loves quicker access to their money.
On top of that, you can also get other features and benefits, including:
- Personalized HR support
- Tax penalty protection
- Time tracking tools
- Benefits management
- Advanced analytics and reporting
Plus, you get to pick and choose the features you need without having to pay for things you’re never going to use. This helps keep costs low while still delivering the functionality you need for your business.
With that said, QuickBooks Online Payroll was built to integrate directly with its own accounting software. So, if you use something else, you may find it a bit of a challenge to connect the two. It’s not impossible, it just won’t be as easy as connecting with QuickBooks’ own accounting software.
When it comes to pricing, QuickBooks has something for everyone. Paid plans start at $22.50 + $4 per employee per month with a 30-day free trial. This plan includes full-service payroll so you get everything you need.
If you already use Quickbooks for accounting, you can easily add payroll services right inside your account in just a few clicks.
Plus, you can enjoy a 30-day free trial to see if it’s a good fit for your team.
#3 – ADP — The Best for Avoiding Payroll Growing Pains
ADP is a major player in HR software. Through powerful automations, the team is able to customize your experience every step of the way, starting the moment you land on the website.
After the system gathers a bit of info, you’ll get specialized recommendations based on the information you gave.
Whether you’re a small business just starting to hire your first employees or a midmarket company with hundreds already on your payroll, ADP does an excellent job of guiding you through its maze of product offerings.
While a surge in customer growth may not seem like a problem, you probably need more hands on deck to keep up. As such, you may need to adjust to how you handle timesheets, benefits, and payroll to work for your constantly evolving team.
ADP solves this commonly overlooked pain point with automation and proven processes. Plus, you never have to worry about outgrowing the software, regardless of where you start your ADP journey. Rather than scrambling to find something that works as you grow, it flexes and scales right alongside you, no matter how big you get.
One example of this in action is adding new employees—configuring tax settings, finalizing their paperwork, getting signatures, and adding them to your payroll takes just a few minutes.
Payroll can be where you start, but services like recruiting and benefits management are also available as you keep scaling. And you can easily get in touch with a payroll or HR expert 24/7, meaning you don’t have to navigate anything on your own or wait several days for help.
You can also leverage ADP’s App Store to further customize HR packages and integration options as your business grows and your online payroll needs change. Because each plan is completely customized to match your business, pricing isn’t available online. And you have to call ADP to get a quote. This means it may take longer to start implementing your online payroll software since you can’t start using it right away.
For scaling companies interested in doing business with a well-known provider that offers a variety of solutions, ADP is a good choice.
#4 – Deluxe Payroll — The Best Way to Attract More Talent
Plenty of payroll services offer a healthy dose of HR features as well, but none help you with making a hiring push quite like the payroll offering from Deluxe.
While ADP is our top recommendation for scaling with you as your business grows, Deluxe Payroll is perfect for companies that are struggling to attract, screen, and onboard new hires.
Like all the providers listed here, you get everything you need for running payroll smoothly, including assistance with filing taxes in all 50 states, time tracking tools, an employee self-service portal, workers’ compensation, and PTO management. Despite its superior talent acquisition features, it doesn’t skimp out of essential payroll functionality.
where Deluxe really shines is its potent suite of digital hiring and onboarding tools.
The suite helps you push job listings to the most prominent online job boards and social media sites in a few clicks, rather than a few hundred. Plus, it can automate many routine aspects of hiring, like sifting out unqualified candidates through pre-screening questions, scheduling interviews with qualified applicants, and sending offer letters to those who’ve made the cut.
There’s also Deluxe’s proprietary Text to Apply technology, which not only makes it easier for interested talent to apply to your job openings—it opens up a whole world of possibilities for making engaging and creative ways to announce your hiring pushes.
Think of the splashy digital posters you can make that have a simple CTA of “text JOB to [phone number]” which will really stand out in a crowd of black text on white backgrounds and similarly sterile hiring announcements.
Applicants who text as instructed will instantly receive a link to whatever landing page you’ve set up, whether that’s a list of available job openings or a form to fill out to start the application process.
Again, this is a standard feature in Deluxe Payroll’s lowest-cost package, which runs $39/month plus $7/employee.
If you want more HR assistance from your payroll software, you can upgrade to The Works ($39/month + $12/employee) and get additional features like:
- HR document management
- Organizational directories and hierarchy charts
- Benefits, ACA, PTO, and tax compliance tools
- Performance tracking
- Additional automation features
- SSO through Google, Microsoft, and other popular accounts
If you want a payroll software that also actively helps your company grow, connect with the folks at Deluxe today.
#5 – SurePayroll — The Best Worry-Free Guarantee for Small Business Taxes
SurePayroll allows you to get set up in minutes and start running your very own payroll with ease. This is extremely powerful for small business owners, and also gives you an upper hand with being a mobile service as well. But what makes SurePayroll especially unique is their risk free guarantee on paying business taxes.
There are two levels of payroll services you can use. The first is self service and the other is full service, no matter what you select you are backed by the most incredible guarantees. You are promised a no penalty tax guarantee as well as a tax calculation guarantee.
The full service service payroll guarantee allows you to focus on payroll and keep the complexities of taxes out of site. SurePayroll will handle the trickery that is tax preparation. The full service plan offers full tax preparation—calculation, filing, payments and any penalties associated with your business are covered.
With the self service payroll plan your taxes are calculated to perfection or any penalties you incur from the IRS are paid in full by SurePayroll, they will even be a direct point of contact with the IRS agency—making sure to leave your business out of it.
For more than 20 years, SurePayroll has been serving small businesses in every industry imaginable. SurePayroll designed its service to be simple, cost-effective, and straightforward to suit this specific situation.
Top features include:
- Run payroll anytime, from anywhere: With SurePayroll, you can run payroll from a computer, smartphone, or tablet. As long as you have internet access, you can get the job done.
- Full-service and self-service options: With full-service, SurePayroll takes over the entire process on your behalf. With self-service, you’re responsible for inputting the data necessary to run payroll.
- Tax filing guarantee: We discussed this above.
SurePayroll customer service and support are not trapped in the past either, with phone, chat, and email options for contacting an experienced payroll professional anytime you need help along the way.
In regards to price, SurePayroll requires you to complete the quote form on its website for more information.
Cost depends on the number of employees and whether you choose full-service or self-service.
Remember SurePayroll is designed for small businesses. Even though mid to large-sized businesses can use the service, it’s features are geared more toward those with 100 employees or less. Keep this in mind when you are looking.
If tax preparation is important to you and you run a small business, definitely give SurePayroll a strong look.
#6 – Payroll4Free.com — The Best Feature-Rich Free Forever Software
This is one of the best ways to use a payroll service if you are on a very tight budget and need accurate tax preparation, direct deposit options for your team or even the ability to print checks.
Payroll4Free solves the problems you have regarding payroll and works well enough to where you have no problems continuing to use it.
Along with the features mentioned above you can also track vacation time. As you continue along in this article, you will recognize Payroll4Free is incredibly feature rich for being a freemium service.
A basic level payroll provider like this would usually charge a minimum of $30-40 a month and usually a per employee cost too. And you are using it for free.
Plus you get stellar customer service that gives you the full service treatment; talk to a live person that knows everything about the software to solve your problem quickly.
The small business start and mindset shines through in customer support as they always make you a top priority. As a smaller online payroll service, Payroll4Free.com is able to provide above-average customer support via email and phone.
You also have integration with quickbooks and can import your current data or even export your data to banks, and other software providers you use if you need to.
Payroll4Free is always free for up to 25 employees. They are able to do so by placing ads inside the software you use to run payroll.
Yes, it can be distracting, so keep this in mind. But, it’s a good tradeoff if you’re looking to save.
Top features of Payroll4Free.com include:
- Free for up to 25 employees: As long as you have 25 employees or fewer, Payroll4Free.com is always free.
- Variety of free add-ons: You can do more than run payroll with Payroll4Free.com. Add-ons include a payroll calculator, employee portal, and detailed reporting.
- Direct deposit or paper check: Let your employees choose, so you can pay them the way they want.
We also love the available employee dashboard. You can also review detailed reporting regarding your payroll to help you make data driven decisions. Although it lags behind the competition in some key areas, Payroll4Free.com is 100% free. And for many, that’ll always be enough.
If you’re on a budget, go with Payroll4Free.com.
Methodology For Choosing The Best Online Payroll Service
There is no right or wrong way to evaluate online payroll services, but some details deserve more attention than others. We focused on a variety of factors to ensure a comprehensive breakdown of each, with a focus on:
One-and-Done Data Entry
Imagine only having to do confirmation for your payroll services once, and it was set for future entries—no redundant tasks for you, and it would keep you from wasting time pecking away at your keyboard.
This is what you want to look for when selecting a payroll provider.
You want automation, integration and a provider that focuses on removing error prone situations by eliminating manual data entry over and over.
When you have to add the same data into your software in three different locations to confirm its addition to the system, you should be concerned. This should not give you a sense of satisfaction that your provider is thorough, instead, this means they are behind the times and need better software checks and balances.
As a small business owner you don’t want to have to add your employees weekly payroll manually each and every time—importing and exporting data.
For a moment consider what this will do to your managers that have a team of 15, or even 20.
When you have software that’s inefficient, it leads to burnout from your managers, it can cause people to cut corners, and that leads to inaccurate payroll figures and other errors you want to avoid.
Remember this methodology when selecting your provider. When you improve this one area of payroll services you can save you hundreds of working hours each year, because being late to your kids soccer game because of payroll is not cool.
Technology Promises That Don’t Miss the Mark
Whenever you are promised something and don’t get it, you feel shorted in a way. Even if it’s slightly. When you are paying for a service and you don’t get what was promised the feeling is intensified.
Too many providers promise 21st century technology but in actuality are still stuck in the 20th century. And because most users have newer computers and browsers it makes it harder for users to use their software. For example, some users can’t navigate software because their browser is not compatible with the payroll service software.
Adding to this problem, other providers will have semi-functioning technology or a complex user interface because it’s old, lack customization and don’t work with different technologies you may be currently using. Some platforms can be glitchy, signing employees in and out without them knowing causing even more complications.
When you decide to use online payroll services you want state of the art technology and integration that actually works. You want to be able to integrate your POS systems, along with other accounting software; that makes importing and exporting data push-button. The providers on this list have excellent integration applications to give you all that you need to give your business a new seamless workflow.
Things like tracking time, updated schedules and managing services through your CRM should also be available to you. Having mobile applications that work seamlessly, giving employees and administrators clear communication through the platform from anywhere need to be tested by you or your team early on.
When you select the provider best for your business, test all the services you feel your business will use the most. Make sure applications are fully functional and can be proven that they work, read reviews about those features, and clearly understand your trial period and what occurs when canceling if you’re not satisfied.
Customer Support Should Help, Right?
Problems will arise, and when they do you want to feel confident you are getting the written answers.
If you have an issue and have to talk to several people to get anything resolved your blood may begin to boil.You don’t want a company that has to bounce you around to different reps because each segment of the company is split into a jigsaw puzzle.
And this is frustrating when you begin to deal with reps that know less about the system than you do. Imagine having a conversation where you have to walk the rep through how to do something—not a very comforting feeling when you are paying for a service that you are depending on for important financial and HR management.
And this is a terrible recurring nightmare when everytime you call you get a new person and have to re-explain yourself.
Look for a customer support team that has follow up notes, and possibly a way to search your conversation or the current problem that you’re working on. Top tier support is what keeps you happy when using software. There are always problems, but how quickly they get resolved is what matters most.
Talk to customer service, ask questions about the services they offer, even if you are not a customer. This is a great way to see how they handle themselves and if they only care that you are a customer. When you have complex areas like recruitment, payroll and other HR related services you need a support team that is patient and likes to help. Taking the time to call them and see how they handle common problems, gives you a preview into how you will be treated.
Plus some providers give you a designated support administrator that provides you with a concierge type focus, making sure you have help at all times, and one point of contact.
Accurate Tax Preparation
When you run a business, and it’s global or spread out over multiple states, tax preparation can be an absolute nightmare. Setting up state taxes is complicated and getting it right the first time without having to pay an accountant a mini fortune is just as rare.
That’s until now. Many payroll providers offer tax services, taking the guesswork out of it all. But you must do your homework because some providers say they have you covered, but don’t do all the filing, the paperwork, or help you if mistakes are made when calculating your taxes. Some have even filed late causing penalties and liens placed on businesses.
Tax penalties can take your life’s work and crumble it like stale bread in between your finger tips. You pay these providers to handle this so you don’t have too.
If you want this service it’s important you understand the process inside and out, so you are not stuck paying for lawyer fees to get your business off the naughty list with the IRS.
That is why you want to know exactly what guidelines are set in place for your business and your payroll provider when they are filing your taxes.
Here are a few questions to consider and ask yourself when finding a provider that is trustworthy to handle your yearly tax preparation on autopilot:
- What confirmation do you get to show they are preparing the financials for you?
- When will your taxes be filed?
- Is there a foolproof process in place if you are threatened or incur fees from the IRS?
- How is the process performed, monthly, quarterly, yearly?
- Will you be responsible for filing the financials and forms, or do they do it all?
- Is there a guarantee?
These are important questions and several providers on this list make tax prep a snap, and even offer guarantees, for self and full-preparation of your taxes.
But if you choose to go outside of this methodology, we recommend you ask yourself these questions. They will provide you a solid guide if you decide to use the tax preparation service an online payroll provider offers.
However, there are other high-quality options to choose from.
So, don’t forget to use the methodology outlined above as you go through the process of choosing the best online payroll service for your business.